Tag Archives: trade

Supply and Trade, Waste, and ASGM in the Final Agreement

by Mark Staples and Danya Rumore

During INC5, we were responsible for the interconnected issues of mercury supply and trade (Article 3), waste (Article 13), and artisanal and small-scale gold mining, or ASGM (Article 9). These articles were introduced in plenary early on and, given disagreement about the text, were quickly sent to the contact group on selected technical articles for revision. It took until mid-afternoon on Friday for the contact group to reach resolution on these topics, but an agreement was reached. Here is a summary of how these issues evolved over the course of the week and an overview of what made it into the agreed-upon treaty text.

Supply, Trade, and Waste

In our previous issue overview blogs on mercury supply and trade and waste, we anticipated that discussions on these issues would focus on 1) whether and how to regulate primary mercury mining operations; 2) the identification of existing stocks of mercury and mercury compound; and 3) the integration of concepts from the Basel Convention and Rotterdam Convention into the mercury treaty.

In terms of primary mercury mining, the biggest breakthrough of the negotiations was an agreement to phase-out existing primary mercury mining operations within 15 years of treaty ratification, despite initial stiff opposition from China, a nation that is currently home to significant mercury mining. Additionally, a ban on new primary mercury mining was agreed upon. Some countries with mercury deposits but no existing primary mining operations requested financial compensation for foregone resource development resulting from the ban on new mining. Thankfully, the contact group Co-Chair, Donald Hannah, helped avoid this potential sticking point by making clear that discussion of such compensation was beyond the scope of the technical working group. Importantly, the ban on new mining and phase-out existing mining will help prevent the continued release of mercury from lithosphere into the earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and soil.

It was agreed upon at INC4 that all parties must quantify secondary sources of mercury and mercury compounds by taking inventory of “stocks” and “supply-generating stocks”. However, the thresholds sizes for the accounting of these sources were not defined in the draft treaty text put together by the Chair, and we expected that this would be a point of contention during the final negotiations. Surprisingly, the contact group quickly settled upon thresholds of 50 metric tons for individual stocks and 10 metric tons per year of supply-generating stocks. While the question of threshold sizes was easily resolved, the question of whether mercury compounds should be included in the clauses of article 3 was the source of much debate. Resistance came primarily from the American delegates, who did not want mercury compounds to be included. However, after much debate, it was decided that mercury compounds will be included.

Discussion around supply, trade, and waste also focused on whether and how to include a “Prior Informed Consent” (PIC) mechanism, similar to that included in the Rotterdam Convention, for mercury import and export. From the contact group discussions, it was clear that PIC is important to developing nations, especially those from the African Group and Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC). In the end, the contact group agreed upon a PIC mechanism that allows states to submit standing consent, indicating PIC of all mercury imports until further notice, to the Secretariat. This compromise is designed to stem the flow of illicit or unwanted mercury trade while, at the same time, minimizing the administrative burden of PIC.

Finally, Article 12 of the agreed upon treaty text mandates that the trans-boundary movements of mercury waste must comply with the terms of the Basel Convention.

Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining

UNEP’s Global Mercury Assessment 2013 indicates that ASGM is now the largest source of anthropogenic mercury emissions. As such, we expected significant negotiation over whether and how to regulate the import and export of mercury for ASGM, and possibly some discussion over the eventual phase-out of ASGM.

However, ASGM is a particularly difficult issue to address in a multi-lateral setting like INC5. Beyond the environmental issues, which are both local and global in nature, ASGM is tied to the economic interests of many developing nations. As a result, there are serious trade-offs between the social and economic benefits and the health and environmental impacts of ASGM, and these trade-offs need to be considered when making an ASGM policy.

At INC5, Article 9 on ASGM was discussed but was not altered dramatically from the Chair’s proposed text. No special restrictions were placed on the use of imported mercury for ASGM, and no phase-out date was included in the draft treaty text. The only significant change to the Chair’s proposed text was the addition of some relatively weak wording in Annex E (which concerns national action plan requirements for ASGM) indicating that nations must develop “strategies for managing trade and preventing diversion of mercury” for ASGM.


Although supply, trade, waste, and ASGM are seemingly separate issues, it worked surprisingly well for a single contact group to work toward agreement on these topics along with issues related to products and processes. By discussing all of these concerns in detail in the same forum, delegates were able to trade across issues to develop a text that, in aggregate, was acceptable to everyone. As Lawrence Susskind says in his blog on good negotiation strategy, working across issues to create package solutions is important for mutual gains outcomes.

We can’t wait to see if the final versions of Articles 3, 9, and 13 will stand up to their next test: the signing in Minamata!

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 4—Wednesday, January 17

by Mark Staples

Day 4 marked the beginning of the second half of INC5. A lot of work remains to be done before a global mercury treaty can be agreed to, and the delegates were eager to get down to work in their contact groups.

Supply and Trade, ASGM, & Waste

Work continued on Article 3 concerning supply and trade in the selected technical articles contact group, focusing specifically on the notification requirements for mercury export and import. Delegates debated the merits of a mechanism similar to prior informed consent from the Rotterdam Convention applied to the mercury trade.  While such a mechanism would give importing states more control over the mercury trade, some delegates argued that it would be too burdensome. There was also debate concerning whether or not the trade restrictions should apply to mercury compounds in addition to elemental mercury.

As the contact group worked late into the night, they were expecting to hear back from drafting groups on alternative and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) issues and primary mercury mining, and intended to finish their mandate before breaking for the night.

Products & Processes

Because they were occupied with supply and trade and ASGM issues, the contact group did not devote much time to the product and processes text. However, co-chair Abiola Olanipekun did introduce CRP 14 in the afternoon plenary, which despite many remaining brackets, will be sent to the legal group for polishing before reconsideration in the contact group.

Financial & Technical Assistance

Article 15 on financial assistance was discussed in morning plenary, with all countries agreeing that a special financial regime is needed to assist countries in implementing this convention. While finances have historically been considered a “developed vs. developing” country issue, Switzerland made the point that effective finance is in all parties’ interests. After only short discussion, Article 15 was sent to a contact group that will meet tomorrow.

After a day of small-group negotiations, a revised Article 16 on capacity building, technical assistance, and technology transfer was presented as a package to our contact group. With only a few hurdles, it was fully accepted and was presented in this afternoon’s plenary session. Chair Lugris thanked this contact group for setting the tone of progress as he sent the article off to the legal group.

Institutions & Implementation

In the morning, a separate contact group was convened to work on sections of the treaty text related to definitions, institutional linkages, and implementation—an ambitious set of topics. Before lunch, the group set to work on the definitions of mercury, mercury compounds, mercury-added products, and use allowed. While it might seem like these definitions should be fairly obvious, delegates were on the lookout for any technical or legal ambiguities that could leave the door open for loopholes or non-compliance. Definitions were agreed upon for most of these terms, with the exception of “use allowed.” In the evening, the group divided into even smaller working groups for informal negotiations on the question of implementation/compliance/implementation and compliance committees.

Emissions & Releases

Delegates working on emissions had a productive day, generating papers on what kinds of mercury emissions sources will be included in the treaty, and making progress on the issue of releases to land and water.

Annex F on the included emissions sources is now nearly complete. “Sources included” now refers specifically to point sources from major agreed-upon categories, with only two categories still up for debate: iron and steel (and secondary steel), and open burning. The group seemed to reach a consensus on control measures for new sources, and is currently discussing the complex issue of addressing existing sources.

The MIT team enjoys a Swiss Break with some new friends. Photo credit: Earth Negotiations Bulletin: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc5/

The MIT team enjoys a Swiss Break with some new friends. Photo credit: Earth Negotiations Bulletin: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc5/

At the Swiss break, chocolate incentives were offered to spur the delegates. In the emissions contact group, the chair brandished the reward, and good-naturedly warned the delegates that he would eat all the chocolate himself if they did not finish the draft text on emissions promptly.

Afternoon Plenary

In an address to the plenary, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, along with Swiss Environment Minister Doris Luethard, urged delegates to forge ahead and to do their best to reach agreement on the treaty text by Friday. The Minister pledged 1 million Swiss Francs as an interim contribution to the future convention on behalf of the Swiss government, and the governments of Norway and Japan each matched the pledge.

The objective is to have the draft text complete by today, Thursday, at lunch in order to complete the treaty by 6pm on Friday. Will they make it? Stay tuned to find out! We’ll be eagerly following the proceedings on Twitter (@MITMercury) and here on our blog.

Issue Overview: Mercury Supply and Trade

by Mark Staples and Danya Rumore

Mark and Danya here. During the INC5 negotiations, we’re covering issues related to mercury waste, supply and trade, and artisanal and small scale-gold mining (ASGM). Here, in our second installment, we provide an overview of mercury supply and trade, discuss what is already included in the draft treaty text about this issue, and explain what is now being discussed and will hopefully be decided in the days ahead.

All mercury used in products and processes originates from deposits in the earth’s crust. Deposits are distributed around the world, with a large concentration in western Asia and China. Mines in Spain, Italy, and Slovenia were historically the main global sources of the metal, but most mercury mining today occurs in Kyrgyzstan and China.

Once extracted, mercury is traded as a global commodity. Annual international movements of mercury have historically been on the order of 1000–2000 tonnes per year. Nations that have existing mines aren’t the only exporters of mercury; a number of developed nations have existing stocks of mercury available for export, or they act as brokers between primary sources and importing nations.

On the issue of supply, the proposed treaty text bans new primary mercury mining and the export, sale, or distribution of existing mercury (except for the uses listed in Annex D II). While Annex D has been drafted, the specifics of the Annex are still being discussed, as is the question of whether any restrictions will be placed on existing mercury-mining operations.

The proposed treaty text also requires that parties identify all mercury stocks within their territory. However, the threshold size of these stocks is not yet stipulated. We expect that this will be a subject of debate during the remaining days of the negotiations.

In terms of trade, the proposed text mandates that mercury can only be exported for allowable uses, as described by the treaty, or for environmentally sound disposal. It also requires that exporting countries obtain written consent from the recipient country. This section of the text reflects the integration of the Basel Convention, which concerns the global transboundary movement of hazardous wastes, into the mercury treaty. Of particular importance, the proposed treaty text also invokes the principle of “prior informed consent” from the Rotterdam Convention. The specific responsibilities of exporting and importing countries, as well as the extent of guidance that the Conference of the Parties is expected to provide on this front, is and will likely continue to be the source of some interesting discussion among involved parties.

The mercury supply and trade issue is now being discussed in a focused “technical articles” contact group. We hope that delegates are able to make significant progress on this front in the hours ahead so that we can move onto addressing artisanal and small-scale mining, discussing waste and storage, and—ultimately—reaching agreement on an effective global mercury treaty.

Follow us on twitter @markdstaples and @DanyaRumore as we post live updates on the negotiations!

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 3—Tuesday, January 16

by Alice Alpert

Day 3 began with snow falling, turning Geneva into a winter wonderland.


Everyone eagerly anticipated the first of the Swiss breaks, to be held in the evening. However, we are no longer “early” in the negotiations, so parties were eager make some progress before the Swiss break festivities began.

Here’s a recap of progress made on different topics.

Products and Processes

The technical articles contact group made progress on setting the mercury concentrations that different types of lightbulbs can contain, although the phase-out dates remain undecided. A breakout group, facilitated by one of the co-chairs, was started to address the controversial dental amalgam issue.

The group is in the midst of working through the annex regarding products and processes that will be exempt from regulation: antiques were removed because they are not being currently manufactured; there will be exceptions for some research and calibration standards (although there is no consensus yet exists on the details); thiomerisol will be allowed as a preservative in vaccines; polyurethane, vinyl chloride monomer, and sodium methylate are still under review. The group discussed the idea of discouraging distribution in commerce as a process provision rather than an outcome provision.

Emissions and Releases

In the morning, a technical group of about 30 attendees was tasked with discussing possible options for characterizing the nature of emissions and releases regulations. The group agreed that it would be useful to narrow the scope of the treaty to major sources, but there was no consensus around the several threshold types discussed (e.g., do you regulate based upon capacity, intensity, or aggregate emissions?).  In the afternoon and evening, the full emissions contact group reconvened and agreed to eliminate certain small-source categories. Into the evening, they were discussing releases, looking to start forming some draft text. Memorably, in response to one delegate’s suggestion that a ton of mercury was a small amount of emissions,  another party replied: “No single raindrop feels responsible for the flood.”

Institutions and Implementation

The treaty objective and definitions were discussed in morning plenary, focusing on whether a dedicated, stand-alone article on health impacts was required or even warranted. The plenary was divided on the issue: one side was of the opinion that a separate health article duplicates other sections of the text and/or impinges upon the effort of the World Health Organization, while the other side sees a stand-alone article as paramount to reaffirming the objective of the treaty. Many NGOs submitted interventions supporting the health article.

Also in plenary, parties showed no movement on how to ensure domestic implementation, with many developing nations saying that a uniform requirement for submitting a plan to meet treaty obligations did not take into account differing national socio-economic conditions. In the evening, a contact group on the implementation and health issues met. Gridlock continued, and a small group decided to work through the night to submit a suitable proposal in the morning.

Financial and Technical Assistance

Much of the work in this area occurred in a small contact group of “friends of the co-chairs”, which continues to discuss Articles 16 and 16bis regarding technical assistance and technology transfer. Article 17—which concerns whether to establish a committee for implementation or for compliance (or both)—was up for discussion in the afternoon plenary session. Several countries voiced the opinion that they would like the membership of and mechanism for decision-making by this group to be specified in the treaty,  rather than by the conference of parties. These specifics will be considered in a contact group set to convene on Day 4.

Supply and Trade, AGSM, and Waste

Work in this area began at 11pm in the technical articles contact group, with a discussion of Article 3 on supply and trade. One of the biggest struggles involved whether existing primary mining should be banned; this decision is still in a deadlock. The group didn’t break until after 1am, and we can expect more work on Day 4.

Highlight of the day

After the second plenary session, the loudspeakers came to life with the song “Under Pressure,” (featuring Freddie Mercury)—just to drive the point home. Then the Swiss break began, providing delicious food, wine, and opportunities for delegates to work out compromises in informal consultations.


The Swiss break also notably featured video footage of traditional Swiss culture, including whipcracking and running around in leaf costumes, in addition to skiing and yodeling. While the Swiss music was questionable, the event did not disappoint. We look forward to our second Swiss break this evening, and hope that the negotiations make significant progress in the meantime.

History Of Mercury Use in Products and Processes

By Ellen Czaika and Bethanie Edwards

In preparing this blog post, we used information from Brooks’s 2012 chapter in Mercury in the Environment and Nriagu’s 1979 The Biogeochemistry of Mercury in the Environment, unless otherwise noted.

As with most elements, there is a fixed amount of mercury on the planet. This mercury cycles through the deep earth, the atmosphere, the terrestrial reservoir, and various water bodies on timescales that vary from less than a year to tens of thousands of years. Toxicity aside, mercury has many chemical properties that make it useful to humans. Thus, there is evidence that mercury has been utilized throughout antiquity. A human skeleton dating from 5000BCE was found covered in vermillion, also known as cinnabar (HgS). Another historic example of mercury use was found in a 15th century BCE Egyptian tomb ceremonial cup.

Humans have been mining mercury ore from the deep earth (the “lithosphere”) since at least the Roman times. The Romans operated a mercury mine in Spain with prisoner and slave labor. They used mercury as a pigment in their paint; mercury-containing paint has been found in Roman homes buried by the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius in 79CE. The use of mercury in paint has continued into the modern area, although in recent history, mercury was added as a fungicide rather than for its chromatic properties. It wasn’t until 1991 that the use of mercury in paint was phased out in the US.

Aristotle is credited with the oldest known written record of mercury (in an academic text dating back to sometime during the 4th century BCE), in which he referred to it as “fluid silver” and “quicksilver.” This academic text conveyed what alchemists of his day believed: that mercury was the component in all metals that gave them their “metal-ness.” At that time, it was used in ceremonies and to treat skin disorders. In India and China, it was used as an aphrodisiac and for medical therapy circa 500 BCE. Chinese woman are reported to have consumed mercury as a contraceptive 4,000 years ago. Cinnabar is still used as a sedative in traditional Chinese medicine.

By 1000 CE, mercury was used to extract gold by amalgamation. The mercury surrounds the gold, forming shiny pellets that workers then burn. The mercury evaporates, leaving the purified gold. This process is still practiced by artisanal small-scale gold mining operations today, exposing over 10 million of workers to the toxic element and releasing between 650-1000 tonnes of mercury per year into the environment.

Mercury was used in scientific research largely as a result of Torricelli’s 1643 invention of the barometer and Fahrenheit’s 1720 invention of the mercury thermometer. While thermometers in the health care sector are no longer made with mercury, China still produces several measurement devices, such as blood-pressure meters, that contain mercury.

During the Industrial Revolution, various inventions increased the demand for mercury. In 1799, mercury fulminate was first used as a detonator for explosives. In 1835, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was first produced, the original synthesis of which relied on mercury as a catalyst. In 1891, Thomas Edison’s incandescent lamp contained mercury (to this day compact fluorescent light bulbs have mercury added to them.) In 1894, H.Y. Castner discovered that mercury could be used in the chlor-alkali process to produce chlorine and caustic soda. And during WWII, the Ruben-Mallory battery (mercury dry-cell battery) was invented and widely used.

By the early 1900s, the main uses of mercury were in making scientific equipment, recovering gold and silver, manufacturing fulminate and vermilion, and felt-making.  Of note, individuals who made felt hats displayed signs of dementia as a result of mercury poisoning. These “Mad Hatters” were referred to by Lewis Carroll in his book Alice in Wonderland.

By the 1960s, the production of electrical apparati, caustic soda, and chlorine accounted for over 50% of mercury uses. Caustic soda is largely associated with the paper industry; it is used to achieve whiter paper. With the exception of manufactures in China, chlor-alkali production has now shifted to a non-mercury method. However, the chlor-alkali industry still accounts for 1% of total mercury emissions to the atmosphere and potentially a much larger contribution to water and land releases.

Before 1850, the world’s supply of usable mercury was extracted from three mines located in Almaden, Spain (dating back to the Romans times); Idria, Slovenia; and Santa Barbara, Peru (which the Spanish controlled during colonial times). Between 1850 and the 1960’s, the Santa Barbara mine ceased production and mercury mining began in two other regions: in Monte Amiata, Italy, and throughout California in the United States.  The latter coincided with the Gold Rush. Since 1960, other mines have opened in the Soviet block countries, China, Kazakhstan, Algeria, Mexico, and the US state of Nevada. Despite the opening of new mines in recent decades, a report from the EU predicts that recycling of mercury from products and by-products could help meet the mercury demand and further reduce direct mining of mercury.

The historical use of mercury has set the stage for many of the modern products and processes that utilize mercury. It is estimated that, over the last 4000 years, historical and continued use of mercury have released 350,000 tonnes of mercury from the depths of the earth into air, surface land, and water, where it’s toxicity becomes problematic for human health and Earth’s sensitive biosphere.

Humans have been using mercury for various uses for much of history. These uses prompt mining and other ways of making mercury available. Given its long persistence and dangers to health and the environment, it is essential we figure out how to reduce mercury uses and anthropogenic releases.  Because mercury is a trans-boundary traveller, coordination and negotiation at the international level are essential.

What to Expect from INC5 Day 3–Tuesday, January 15

by Julie van der Hoop

It’s Day 3 of the INC5 negotiations. By now, we’ve all become a bit more familiar the format of proceedings. However, our schedules are becoming more and more fluid as plenary sessions devolve into contact groups, which can have much more unpredictable (read: long) hours.

Contact groups are sessions that occur at the same time as plenary, where countries and observers discuss a particular subject of interest. These sessions are less formal than plenary, and are usually in English only (stay tuned to the blog about interpretation at the UN!). Here at INC5, the Chair has established contact groups to edit particular articles and subsections of the treaty.

That being said, today’s agenda doesn’t explicitly list any contact group meetings. Yet. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the first contact group meetings begin right after lunch, if not before).


Today is the day that we will have one of the negotiations’ biggest questions answered: what is a Swiss break? We’ve been invited by the host country to enjoy their hospitality over dinner hours, 18:00 – 20:00. But what will this Swiss break entail!? Stay tuned for Alice’s daily wrap-up blog, or follow us on twitter @MITmercury or at #MITmercury to find out.

Interested in particular aspects of the treaty discussions? @alicealpert and I (@jvanderhoop) will be covering continued discussions on technical and financial assistance. @Bea_Edwards and @lncz are staying late in the night for work on products and processes, and @markdstaples and @DanyaRumore are summarizing ASGM, supply, waste and trade. Check out @wolfeyp and @amandagiang for more general discussions on institutions and implementation!

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 2 – Monday January 14

By: Leah Stokes

The second day of negotiations at INC5 was a busy day, without any Swiss breaks. Delegates spent significant time discussing key articles on Products & Processes, and Emissions & Releases. Here are some updates from our team’s observations on the proceedings so far. 

Products & Processes

The technical working group focused on products and processes started early and has powered through the entire day. There was a lot of back and forth between the US, Canada, EU, Japan, and the African Group on the one hand and China, India and Brazil on the other about phase-out dates. China was particularly persistent that they could not phase out mercury batteries by 2020, because there are no mercury-free alternatives currently available to China. Compact flourescents and lamps were also hot topics; negotiators broke off into a smaller group around 11:15 PM to try to reach agreement on mercury concentrations and phase-out dates.

The working group has a new co-chair, Donald Hannah from New Zealand. He delivered an inspiring speech at the beginning of the session and set some ambitious goals. “Finding problems with text is unacceptable at this stage of the process,” he told the delegates. “We are not going to let perfection get in the way of a good text.” His expectations for a cooperative and productive group have spurred the discussions forward. By 11 PM, it looked like negotiations on this issue would continue until the middle of the night.

Emissions & Releases

This morning’s plenary session kicked off INC5’s discussion of mercury emissions to air and releases to land and water. Countries noted that emissions and releases were “crucial” and “at the heart” of the treaty. In the plenary, countries sorted into supporting a more stringent approach, binding targets and techniques–option 1–or a more flexible approach with national plans–option 2. With the notable exception of the African Group, developing countries generally favored a flexible approach, while developed countries favored a more stringent approach.

After discussing key issues, the Chair arranged a contact group chaired by John Roberts (UK) and a negotiator from Indonesia. Meeting in the afternoon, the group was tasked with resolving issues around: the use and nature of thresholds to exclude small sources; striking an agreement on the strength of the articles by specifying the precise requirements and controls; and deciding what distinctions should be made between emissions to air versus releases to land and water.

At the end of this meeting, the co-Chairs formed a team to craft the first draft of a new, compromise article (between option 1 and 2) that will specify precise requirements and controls while allowing sufficient flexibility. They are working busily as we craft this blog post. The results of their efforts will be discussed again in the contact group tomorrow. In addition, plans were made for a technical group to provide guidance on the options and implications for various threshold levels and sources in the coming days.

Institutions & Implementation:

Today’s discussions on institutions and implementation in the plenary focused on links with the Basel Convention. Negotiators emphasized there is a need to clarify linkages with Basel, which focuses on chemical waste broadly, and the section in the draft mercury treaty focused on waste. The Chair mentioned that many delegates here worked on drafting the Basel Convention, so he hoped that they would draw their attention to this task. The US notably brought attention to the fact that they had signed the Basel convention; although they have not ratified it.

Definitions was another key issue. There are some proposals for redefining use allowed to ease some of the disagreements in ASGM. More broadly, there is increasing concern that the draft treaty text be consistent across sections, to ensure a smooth implementation.

Financial & Technical Assistance

Discussion in the Financial & Technical Assistance contact group began with restating country positions and then moved to defining technology transfer. It is still undetermined whether the treaty will include both “soft” technology transfer – including best practices and know-how – and/or “hard” technology transfer – namely, the actual technology. As a result, delegates have yet to negotiate a streamlined version of Article 16bis regarding technology transfer.

Discussion of Article 16, regarding technical assistance, centered around whether technological assistance will only flow from developed to developing countries, or will be exchanged among all parties. This discussion was facilitated by a colorful and popular metaphor of countries ‘dancing the tango and deciding who will lead’—doubltless, some stepping on partners’ toes will occur. As of 10 PM, it appeared that all parties would cooperate to provide [something], to developing countries in particular. What that ‘something’ is remains unknown. Although the chairwoman from Jamaica is providing firm and insightful guidance, there is still much to be decided in this area.

Supply & Trade, ASGM and Waste

Supply & Trade, ASGM and Waste were all introduced in the afternoon plenary session today.

On Supply & Trade, countries debated whether to ban existing and future primary mercury mining, with Chile arguing a ban would set a precedent for other treaties. In addition, the specificity of import/export procedures and their similarity to the Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions was a critical issue, as was the question of whether Prior Informed Consent was needed before mercury was traded.

On AGSM, parties discussed whether text should be included for the phase-out of mercury use in ASGM and whether paragraph 6, concerning financial and technical assistance, should be included or deleted. It was unclear whether banning mercury use in ASGM would just push demand for mercury into a black market.

Finally, on waste, the definition of “mercury waste”, and the use of “shall” rather than “may” were discussed in plenary.

The “technical matters” contact group was subsequently tasked with developing clearer text on all these issues. It is unlikely that the contact group will address these issues until late tomorrow.

An Overview of Undecided Issues at the INC5 Mercury Treaty Negotiations

by Ellen Czaika

INC5, the International Negotiating Committee on Mercury’s 5th and final meeting in Geneva, started yesterday and continues through January 18 or 19 (depending on how long it takes to reach agreement). The discussions are working off of a draft treaty text compiled by the Chair based on the INC4 talks in Uruguay last July.

Several specifics of the treaty have yet to be agreed upon. Let’s look at an overview of what is on the table this week (see our Issue Overview blogs for more details on each of these topics).

Organizational and Implementation Issues

The exact wording of the preamble has yet to be agreed upon. It sets the tone and context of the convention text. Furthermore, the implementation strength of the document is still being debated. This manifests itself partly as a debate over the use of the seemingly similar but yet importantly distinct verbs: “are able to,” “may,” and “shall.” Also relevant to the implementation strength of the treaty, the amount and type of financial and technical assistance to be associated with the agreement is far from settled.

The level of trade transparency is also in question. This issue relates to the amount of insight nations give into their mercury trade and raises questions about monitoring and data reporting.

Another discussion to be made is whether to use the words, “implementation,” “compliance,” or “implementation and compliance.” Use of the word compliance implies the creation of an oversight body that monitors nations’ mercury mining, emissions, trade, disposal, and use. “Implementation,” when used alone, leaves nations responsible for their own assessment of adherence to the treaty’s regulations.

This discussion about “implementation” and “compliance” relates to national sovereignty. Each nation wants its sovereignty respected, but in order to protect its citizens from mercury, it needs other nations to reduce emissions and releases too. If mercury did not move around the globe, a more individualized approach could make sense. However, mercury released in one area affects people worldwide.

Furthermore, the negotiating parties have yet to agree on some procedural and timeline details, such as when the treaty will enter into force (i.e., become live) and whether there will be withdrawal periods.

Additionally and importantly, the parties have yet to agree on how to discuss health aspects within the treaty. This includes whether and how to regulate dental amalgams.

Emissions and Releases Issues

One of the items the Parties will be discussing is how to reduce human-caused mercury releases. They will discuss four main topics related to releases and emissions: sources, thresholds, control objective, and flexibility.

The sources can be categorized by time (existing versus future sources), by industry (chemical production, mining, energy production, product production, waste disposal, etc.), by geography (where in the world the release happens), and by economic or other necessity, among other categories. Should we control all categories of sources? If not all, which ones will be controlled? Should we allow some exceptions for industries that provide irreplaceable employment for impoverished peoples? (If you have thoughts about this, comment below!)

To be effective, thresholds need to be precise and emissions need to be measured to ascertain whether they meet the thresholds. There is debate about whether or not to set thresholds. If thresholds are set, expect long discussions about what those numbers will be. The range of proposed limits on flue gas emissions is 0.01 to 0.2 mg/m3 (for more about this, see our Emissions and Releases Overview blog)

Discussion around the control objective includes the proposing of emission limits, setting reduction goals, relying on best available technology/practices, or wrapping mercury control in with the control of other pollutants (such as others that are released when coal is burned).

The flexibility of the agreement is also in discussion. That is, should nations be in charge of their targets and limits or should there be UN oversight of direct, global targets and limits.

Products and Processes Issues

The draft text has adopted a positive list approach, which means that only the mercury-containing products and processes listed have to be regulated (watch for my upcoming blog on the differences between positive and negative lists). However, the specific products and processes to be listed remain to be decided, as well as their phase out dates (the draft text currently contains place-holder lists). Additionally, it is not a given that both products and process will follow the same type of list; one may be negative and the other positive.

Improper disposal of mercury-containing products can lead to releases of mercury into land and water. Due to its relationship with the product list, wording around disposal is still being decided, as discussed below.

ASGM, Waste, and Trade Issues

Although the parties have agreed on some components of the treaty in regards to trade, artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), and waste, there are still several issues to be decided on these topics.

The threshold values of mercury producing facilities that must be identified and monitored within each national territory is still undecided. The higher the threshold, the fewer facilities that must bereported, and therefore potentially more mercury emissions that will be unaccounted for (but less need for monitoring resources). The lower the threshold, the more countries will have to spend on monitoring, but the more likely global mercury will be controlled.

On the issue of ASGM, the parties have not yet agreed as to whether the implementation of ASGM regulations will be contingent on the provision of financial and technical assistance.

In terms of waste monitoring, the parties have not yet decided about this convention’s relation to the Basel Convention. It is already agreed that the trade in waste will require written consent of the receiving nation. This is similar to the Basel Convention’s requirement for “prior informed consent.” However there are some parties to this mercury convention that are not parties to the Basel Convention. The INC5 negotiating parties have not decide whether nations that are not party to Basel Convention will have to comply with agreed upon transport controls, especially with respect to the informed consent and the take-back obligations of the Basel convention.

Technical Transfer and Funding Issues

Just as with any action, stopping mercury use has both desirable and undesirable consequences. Negotiating parties are trying to balance the desirable consequence (such as improved health for humans and animals) with the undesirable consequences. Some of the undesirable consequences include the loss of livelihood for those whose profession relates to mercury releases (people who work in the coal industry, miners, etc). Not reducing mercury emissions and not controlling mercury-containing products endangers the health of humans, animals, and ecosystems around the globe. Some of the people most impacted are those who work directly with mercury in conditions that lack safety precautions, such as workers in waste combustion sites and artisanal and small-scale gold miners. Finding other work for these often-impoverished workers is not as straightforward as its sounds. These workers are in a tough spot; they need work to be able to afford food and shelter, but their means of housing and feeding themselves and their families endangers their health.

Therefore, the negotiating parties will discuss means to facilitate developing nations’ creation of alternative employment and utilization of technology to reduce mercury emissions. Building this capacity in developing nations requires resources. One contentious part of this convention is who provides these resources to the developing nations and in what form.

When specifically discussing technology for reducing mercury emissions, the parties are considering technical assistance and the transfer of technology and knowledge (see our Issue Overview blog on technical and financial assistance for more about this).

Technical assistance and the transfer of technology and knowledge have the potential to create jobs related to the control of mercury, which might be able to replace the jobs that contribute to its emission. However, these types of jobs potentially require different skills and training, which is a non-trivial consideration.

This balancing of cost of implementation requires a mechanism such as a fund. The parties have agreed that there should be a fund. However, they haven’t agreed on who will contribute to it and who will manage it. Related to the management question is the frequency of reviews and evaluations of the fund. A major question on this front is whether the fund should be administered by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Presently, there are two options on the table for technology transfer. The first is that developed nations will create a mechanism for the transfer of technology to the least developed countries and small island developing states. The second is that the treaty will explicitly state what technology should be transferred.

The assistance issue relates very strongly to the viability of the agreement. If the means for implementing regulations aren’t available, the treaty becomes only words—and many parties probably won’t sign it. Hence, the discussion around assistance will likely be a very interesting part of the coming week!

Watch our blog and follow us on twitter @MITMercury. We’ll be posting details on the discussions and negotiations about these undecided issues as they emerge!